Month: September 2015

Roger Waters: The Wall



Well, you can’t say the show wasn’t big enough.

Infamous rock-curmudgeon Roger Waters has finally released his long talked-about movie adaptation of The Wall and it is, as you might expect, a mammoth undertaking. Co-directed by Waters and Sean Evans, it’s essentially a documentary, culled from the show’s three year long world tour. The concert footage is intercut with a more personal tale, in which Waters drives across France and Italy to visit the graves of his grandfather and father, both of them the victims of war. It makes for a lengthy cinematic experience, a bum-numbing two hours and fifty minutes in total. The original double album was, in Waters’ own words, ‘the whinging of an over-priviliged rock star.’ But across the years, it has developed into something more worthy, a powerful polemic about the futility of war and a tribute to ‘the fallen.’ There’s no doubting Waters’ absolute sincerity in this, even if the personal footage occasionally feels a tad over-indulgent. I could have done without his drunken ramblings to an Italian barman, but the scenes where he plays a simple trumpet theme in two different graveyards is, it has to be said, touching.

As for the show itself, The Wall is what it has always been – a great big sprawling carnival of sound and light, shot through with occasional flashes of pure brilliance. I always thought that it was a patchy double album that could have been a killer single album. As somebody who has been a Pink Floyd fan since 1967, this was of course, a movie I had to see – and it’s definitely a marked improvement on Alan Parker’s rather shrill attempt to film it in 1982. It’s not all plain sailing though. In this day and age, the scantily-clad female imagery that accompanies Young Lust looks suspiciously like an old rock star having his cake and eating it; and despite Gerald Scarf’s wonderful cartoons to accompany The Trial, I was never convinced that this part of the show actually works. But there are so many other highlights to relish here; the jaw-dropping visuals projected onto the wall as it is built between the band and the audience (such an audacious concept!); the note-perfect guitar work from Snowy White and Dave Kilminster which capture David Gilmour’s sonic stylings perfectly; the hilarious Nuremburg Rally chic of Pink’s paranoia-filled stadium show, and the final spectacle of the wall coming down as a packed crowd bays for its destruction.

The high point? It has to be Comfortably Numb. Close up shots of a transported audience howling the lyrics back at the stage, demonstrate how universally adored this song is – and the moment when Kilminster rises above the parapet to deliver that guitar solo has to be one of the defining moments of rock theatre.

Overheard on the way out, a lady complaining to her husband that what she had just watched was ‘an endless anti-war rant.’ This seems a tad unfair, particularly as said husband had a distinctly beatific smile on his face. You don’t have to be a Pink Floyd fan to enjoy this film, but it certainly helps.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Martian



With The Martian, Ridley Scott takes us back into outer space. Given that his previous excursion in that direction was the much anticipated, but decidedly underwhelming Prometheus, there are many out there who didn’t have great hopes for this movie. Happily, their fears are unfounded, because this is the best Ridley Scott movie in a very long time.

Based on Andy Weir’s recent bestseller, it’s the story of Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who during a manned mission to Mars is caught up in a violent storm and knocked for six by a flying projectile. After a desperate search for him, his fellow crew members, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) come to the assumption that he must be dead and make a hasty exit in the direction of earth. But Watney isn’t dead. He wakes up several hours later with a nasty wound to his stomach and the awful realisation that he is totally alone on a planet that is millions of miles away from home. When the people at NASA finally learn of his situation, the decision is taken not to inform the other members of his crew of his plight for fear they will ‘lose concentration’ on their journey home. Watney is, to put it mildly, in a bit of a pickle. It will be four years before a rescue mission can me mounted and he only has enough food for around a month. If he’s to survive, he will have to (to use his own words) ‘Science the shit out of this.’

What follows is a fascinating and captivating couple of hours as Watney works out a complex plan to stay alive, starting with the idea of growing potatoes planted in the packaged human waste from the expedition’s toilet. Meanwhile, there’s an even more serious problem. The only music available to listen to is Lewis’s collection of disco hits circa 1980 – he may go stark raving mad before help arrives.

Damon is always an appealing performer and he’s perfect for the wisecracking, plucky Mark Watney. You’re rooting for him from the word ‘go,’ and as his position becomes ever more precarious, you feel every setback as keenly as he does. As the story moves on and his crew mates finally learn of his situation, proceedings metamorphose into a complex rescue mission, which results in an absolutely nail biting climax. What’s more, there are all the tropes we’ve come to expect from Ridley Scott – magnificent cinematography (with Wadi Rum in Jordan standing in for Mars), a fabulous soundtrack utilising the delights of Abba and vintage David Bowie, plus the absolute conviction that no matter how far fetched the story becomes, its backed up by a wealth of detail, enough to convince you that this really could happen. It’s ironic that I’m reviewing this film on the very day that NASA will announce a ‘major discovery on Mars.’ I appreciate that Scott always puts aside a huge budget for publicity, but that may be going too far!

Scott, by the way, is pressing on with his production of Prometheus Two, so he isn’t quite giving up on outer space just yet. But The Martian is definitely a keeper. Watch it on the big screen and yes, for once, it’s actually worth booking for the 3D showing, because those vast, alien landscapes really are out of this world.

5 stars

Philip Caveney




This fast moving pyscho-thriller, directed by Alfonso Poyart and executive-produced by its star, Anthony Hopkins was originally intended as a follow up to Se7en and it certainly treads similar territory, though it has to be said, with rather less spectacular results. A killer is at large in the city of Atlanta, despatching his disparate victims with a single stab wound to the base of the skull and the FBI are frankly, baffled. Agent Joe Merriweather (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) turns to his old colleague, John Clancy, (Hopkins) a psychic who has worked with him on previous cases but who has retired since the death of his young daughter from leukaemia. At first, Clancy is adamant that he doesn’t want to get back in the game but a brief encounter with Joe’s partner, Agent Katherine Cowls (Abbie Cornish) grants him a disturbing vision of her future and persuades him to change his mind. Once on the case, he soon uncovers the fact that all the murder victims are linked by one thing they have in common…

To be fair, the film is slickly directed and well acted by its cast, but it’s fatally skewered by the fact that Clancy’s abilities are so pronounced, he comes across as some kind of psychic superhero, leaving his FBI partners with very little to contribute to the proceedings. One quick touch of the deceased (or one of their possessions … or a flower they recently touched…) unleashes a whole barrage of cinematic images in his head, which act as a kind of conduit for him to anticipate the killer’s every move. Not only does this seem quite ridiculous, it kills any sense of suspense the story might have generated.

In the film’s final third, the killer steps into the spotlight only to reveal that (oh boy) he is psychic too, whereupon all hope of rescuing this movie goes straight out of the nearest window. A shame, because it’s nicely done and entertaining in its own, galumphing way. Those who actually believe in the supernatural may enjoy this more than I did, but honestly, if so-called psychics really were this adept, police forces across the world would have a much easier time of it.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney

vaguely vaguely

The Crucible

Royal Exchange - THE CRUCIBLE Jonjo O'Neill (John Proctor) background Sam Cox (Giles Corey), Leah Haile (Betty Paris) photographer Jonathan Keenan Royal Exchange - THE CRUCIBLE Peter Guinness (Dept Governor Thomas Danforth) & Stephen Kennedy (Rev. Samuel Parris) photographer Jonathan Keenan


Royal Exchange, Manchester

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is, undoubtedly, one of the great plays of the twentieth century. Written in the early 1950s, it was based around actual events that unfolded in the Puritan community of Salem Massachusetts in 1689; it was also Miller’s opportunity to openly air his feelings about a current event, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Communist ‘witch’ hunt, without fear of retribution. The similarities were there for all to interpret, but Miller was above reproach, as he could argue that he was simply retelling a slice of history – even though, on closer examination, it appears that he took considerable liberties with the facts. Luckily, nobody bothered to check.

The Royal Exchange’s latest reinterpretation, directed by Caroline Steinbeis, is fascinating. It takes place on a stripped, circular dais across which the sizeable cast act and interact with considerable skill, so much so that when they take their final bow, you’re amazed to realise how many people are actually involved in the proceedings. It’s no longer a period piece – there’s not a stovepipe hat or lace collar in sight. The male actors wear clothing that could easily fit into any rural community of the past thirty years, while the women are dressed in frumpy, near identical dresses, emphasising how much they are made to conform to the expectations of the God-fearing men who surround them.

We’ve seen many versions of The Crucible, but few that delineate the various strands of the tale as clearly and powerfully as this one does, and, in an age where political and sociological witch hunts have become an everyday occurrence, the story seems more prescient than ever. As John Proctor, Jonjo O’ Neill gives a dynamic performance, his strident Northern Irish accent lending his final scenes added power, while Ria Zmitrowicz’s portrayal of the hapless Mary Warren is also a highlight; who knew that there was so much comedy to be mined from her role?

But it’s perhaps unfair to single out individual performances, when this is so undeniably an ensemble piece; there are, frankly, no false notes here.

The Exchange is famed for its ‘wow’ moments and, in the final stretches of the play, that slightly inverted dais is suddenly transformed into a gathering pool of water under a jaw-dropping rainstorm – through which the protagonists are obliged to wade. Coming as it does during Proctor’s final confession, this seems to us to symbolise the way in which a truth can irresistibly spread, to engulf all those who would seek to adapt it to suit their own ends. It is also, perhaps, an allusion to ideas of rebirth and baptism. Others will undoubtedly have their own interpretations; whatever, it will certainly stimulate much after-show conversation as you head for home.

This is a superior production, beautifully staged and expertly acted. Don’t miss it.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney and Susan Singfield

A Walk Among The Tombstones



Annoyingly, I missed this one at the cinema and it’s taken me far too long to catch up with it on the small screen. Based on a novel by Lawrence Block, it’s a dour slice of American grunge, featuring Liam Neeson as former detective and alcoholic, Matt Scudder, now plying a precarious trade as a private detective. Given Neeson’s relatively recent incarnation as everyone’s avenging Daddy of choice, it’s good to see him in a role where he actually carries a badge in order to justify his brutality, even if the badge in question is no longer valid. A pre credit sequence which shows him in his former incarnation, involved in a shootout with three bad guys, carries an entirely different accusation – that of crimes against fashion.

Now clean shaven and sans loon pants, Scudder receives a frantic phone call from drug trafficker, Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens, demonstrating just how far he is able to depart from his Downton image when necessity calls.) Kristo’s wife has been kidnapped and despite him paying a hefty ransom, she’s been murdered anyway. Now he wants revenge and feels that Scudder is just the man for the job. Despite his reservations, Scudder undertakes the job and soon finds himself pitted against a ruthless duo of sociopaths who have enacted the same routine over and over. It’s quickly demonstrated that the bad guys are such scumbags that any retribution rained upon them will be richly deserved. A scene where Ray (David Harbour) espies his latest victim, a young girl dressed in a Little Red Riding Hood style, is the film’s most powerfully repellent set piece. Other scenes depicting the torture of the murderer’s female victims, stray very close to the line between powerful and gratuitous, so this certainly won’t be for everyone.

Written and directed by Scott Frank, AWATT is a powerful crime drama, though its stygian look can be a little dispiriting and its demonstration of the depths to which the human psyche can descend makes for grim viewing.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney




The Horrible Histories TV team, take a fairly convincing step up onto the big screen with this radical retelling of the life of William Shakespeare. When we first meet Bill (Matthew Baynton) he’s playing lute with Stratford On Avon’s hottest band, Mortal Coil. However, his propensity for indulging in tortured solos, soon prompts them to tell him to ‘shuffle off.’ (This will give you some idea of the standard of jokes on offer). However, Bill feels he’s destined for the big time and writes his first play, a knockabout comedy, but when his long-suffering wife Anne (Martha Howe Douglas) is unsupportive, he sets off for ‘that’ London to seek his fortune. He soon falls in with down-on-his-luck playwright, Christopher Marlowe (Jim Howick) and together they write a new play – but little do they know that the dastardly King Philip of Spain (Ben Willbond) is cooking up a fiendish plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, (a gurning Helen McCrory) for which he needs one vital ingredient: a decent play.

Fans of the TV series should enjoy this as the format hasn’t changed a great deal, with the familiar players taking on multiple roles. There’s plenty of slapstick for the younger viewers, some more intellectual asides to keep the parents happy and if the whole enterprise has the hit-and-miss feel of the average Monty Python film, it doesn’t really matter as the end result is rarely ever less than entertaining.

It’s also very refreshing to encounter a family film that, for once, doesn’t come absolutely coated in saccharine. The crowd this afternoon was proof enough that it’s reaching its target audience. We were probably the only grown ups there who didn’t have a chortling child in tow. (I think we got away with it.)

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

The Tree of War



St Nicholas Church, Burnage, Manchester

The First World War is a tremendously emotive subject and Oliver Mills’ and Rachel Mann’s The Tree of War, receiving its World premiere in this suburban Burnage church, explores the theme with a depth of sophistication not usually associated with an amateur production. It’s a tremendously ambitious project, utilising an ensemble cast, a live band, an ingenious set and some startling pyrotechnics (at one point clods of earth actually rain down into the audience!).

The story begins in 1986 with the declaration of war in the Falklands. Anna (Lucy Smith), a young girl living in Burnage, is upset that her favourite ‘story tree’ is about to be cut down and asks her Grandfather, Bert (Mike Law), to tell her  about his experiences in the First World War, something he has never spoken of before. We then go back in time to witness young Bert (Alex Cosgriff) and his best friend, Greville (Sam Gilliat) enlisting to fight for their country. They soon find themselves in France biding their time until they go ‘over the top,’ and exchanging letters with their loved ones back home. But the tragedy of the Somme, when 20,000 young men died in one day of fighting, looms ever closer…

“Serious’ musicals are notoriously hard to pull off, so it’s to the company’s credit that they do an exemplary job here. There’s a wide range of styles on offer, from wistful, plaintive ballads to lusty, marching songs. In the first half, a section of knockabout comedy in the trenches falls a little flat and feels like a temporary misstep, but the momentum is soon regained with a series of soldier songs exuberantly led by Harry Cooper (Will Spence), that have the audience clapping along, while the expertly paced second half never flags for a moment. There are some delightful set pieces here: a sequence set at a Women’s Fellowship meeting is beautifully choreographed and the delightful harmonising gives the female actors a real chance to shine; Scottish hard man Dougie (Jamie Rahman) gives a sweet rendition of ‘Being A Lad,’ and it’s a stony individual indeed who won’t be moved to tears (as I was) by the heartbreaking climax.

Those who’d like to catch this show need to act quickly; it comes to the end of its five night run on the 19th of September.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs)

6 - Dominic Marsh as Macheath in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) by Kneehigh Theatre @ HOME Manchester (11-26 Sept 2015). Photo (c) Steve Tanner 5 - Rina Fatania as Mrs Peachum in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) by Kneehigh Theatre @ HOME Manchester (11-26 Sept 2015). Photo (c) Steve Tanner


Home, Manchester

Kneehigh’s reputation precedes them: we know before the show begins that we are in for an energetic, multi-disciplined, high-octane experience, and are well-prepared to be dazzled by what we see.

We’re not disappointed. With Dead Dog in a Suitcase, Kneehigh have successfully reinterpreted The Beggar’s Opera, restoring its original status as an anarchic polemic, using theatre as a means to rage against the machine, revelling in – as well as reviling – the writhing underbelly of our messed-up world.

There’s a veritable roll-call of notorious baddies: a corrupt politician, a ruthless businessman, a manipulative wastrel, a charming gangster. They’re all here, gloriously exaggerated and strutting their stuff. There’s a whole host of victims too, and they’re just as vociferous as the scum in charge. This is, as you might expect, as much a celebration of the underclass, as a vilification of those who oppress. It’s a radical reworking, but its roots in John Gay’s “low-born mucky people doing low-born mucky things to each other” original are clear for all to see.

And it’s relentless: at times, there is so much happening on stage that I don’t know where to look. This is disorienting, yes, but it’s also oddly exciting, and I spend the whole performance sitting forward in my seat, determined not to miss a thing.

In a show with this much going on, it’s hard to single out particular ideas, but the puppet show is certainly worth a mention, especially the cradle full of illegitimate babies. The meta-theatrical linking of Punch with Macheath underlines the heartless, senseless nature of the crimes Macheath commits. The scenes in the strip-club, The Slammerkin, have a similar effect, with grotesque, dilated bodies revealing the nasty truth about the venal punters who go there. It’s a frantic, furious and fabulous ensemble piece, and the story builds and builds until it’s almost unbearable.

And the music! Oh. It’s so riotous and infectious that it’s impossible not to get involved. It assaults and envelops the audience, encompassing a whole range of styles and working in an almost primal way. The violin, played by Patrycja Kujawska, is breathtaking in itself, and the cataclysmic, all-stops-out ending leaves me genuinely awe-struck.

If there’a quibble it’s a minor one: this play is actually quite exhausting to watch. A little tightening here and there to bring down the running time, would benefit both players and audience, I think.

But this is a mesmerising slice of theatre, and definitely one that you should catch before it heads off on tour.

4.7 stars

Susan Singfield

45 Years



45 Years is a compelling film, laying bare the emotional complexities that lie beneath the surface of any relationship. Here, Geoff and Kate’s plans to celebrate their forty-fifth wedding anniversary are suddenly derailed by the arrival of a letter, informing Geoff that the body of his former girlfriend has been found in Switzerland. Perfectly preserved in the glacier that killed her, Katya is transformed into an idealised Sleeping Beauty of a woman: an embodiment of youth and the heady rush of first love. As Geoff retreats into the memories of what he has lost, Kate is left bereft, struggling to cope with what she knows is an irrational jealousy – because what’s the point in being jealous of a ghost?

It’s subtly done. Tom Courtenay portrays Geoff as vulnerable and conflicted. His love for Katya is as well-preserved as her body, but he loves Kate too, and doesn’t want to hurt her with this visit from the past. “It feels like it happened to another person,” he tells her, and it’s clearly true. But Kate, played with wonderful nuance by Charlotte Rampling, is thrown by the revelation that Geoff would have married Katya – if she hadn’t died – and this threatens to undermine their whole relationship. “Was she blonde?” she asks, hopefully. “No,” Geoff tells her, “She was dark.” “Like me.” The fear of being second best, of being the consolation prize, erodes Kate’s confidence in everything that they have built.

And it’s heartbreaking. Two people, who have enjoyed and endured so much together, who have shared their lives for almost half a century, whose caring is so ingrained it’s become routine, can still be unsettled and rendered insecure. It’s heartbreaking – and it’s beautiful. The whole film feels somehow very real.

The Norfolk Broads make a convincing backdrop, and the cluttered house is a nice reminder of the baggage the pair have accumulated throughout the time they’ve shared. The photographs Geoff has hidden in the attic have always been there for the finding, but it’s only now that they have come to light.

And it’s an absolute delight to see a film about old people that isn’t about impending death or comic ineptitude. This is a love story – with sex and tears and tenderness. And it’s just as affecting as any young romance.

It’s well worth watching, if you get the chance.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield




Brian Helgeland’s take on the Kray twins is a curate’s egg of a film; good in parts, but not good enough overall to deserve the welter of four star reviews it has received. Mind you, the Guardian’s two star appraisal was probably a bit harsh, though the publicity generated by the film’s publicists, who cunningly made it look like a four star on the poster surely deserves some kind of special award for chutzpah (see image). Unlike the previous attempt at filming this story (famously starring Gary and Martin Kemp) this version begins with the twins at the height of their powers in London’s East End and is narrated by Frances (Emily Browning) the troubled teenager who ends up as Reggie Kray’s long-suffering wife. Right from the beginning, this is a problem because Frances is actually a rather dull character and we really don’t learn enough about her to fully empathise with her plight, even when her misery turns to tragedy.

On the plus side, we get two Tom Hardys for the price of one. He is, of course, an extraordinary actor and he manages to portray the two very different brothers with swaggering conviction – but it has to be said that his characterisation of Ronnie Kray is largely comedic (brilliantly so in a scene where he attempts to dance to Strangers In The Night) but I felt distinctly uneasy to hear an audience laughing out loud at the utterances of an unabashed psychopath. Call me old fashioned, but that just felt wrong.

There’s a reasonable attempt here to recreate the 60s backdrop, replete with a vintage soundtrack, but the script fails to fully explore some important characters in the story. Christopher Eccleston as Nipper Read, the copper pledged with the difficult task of bringing the Krays to justice is (if you’ll forgive the pun) criminally underused and so is Tara Fitzgerald as Frances’s mother, a woman who famously wore black to her daughter’s wedding.

There are some extremely violent set pieces – a gang fight in a pub, where hammers are put to inappropriate use, and the famous murders of George Cornell and Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie, but they are filmed with a kind of cartoonish zeal that somehow undermines their severity and inevitably, glamourises the ‘pay up or get duffed up’ world in which the Krays operated. Again, I felt conflicted by this. Surely villains should be scorned, not paraded as role models?

All-in-all then, this feels like a missed opportunity. After viewing the trailer, I’d expected to love this film, but I came away feeling that it should have (and easily could have) been so much better than it actually was.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney